A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.
Last week I took advantage of some nicely-priced Japanese eggplant, serving my first autumn eggplant of the year, but I wasn’t quite prepared to admit that we’re firmly into the fall season. The bizarre nature of Washington’s growing season means we’re still seeing beautiful, flavorful local peaches and nectarines, and still some spectacular local tomatoes, but we had been quickly closing in on fall. The apple harvest started, as well, and I’ve indulged in the fruits of that. Sweet potatoes, too. But I wasn’t quite ready to give in and call a season a season.
Tonight’s spicy rice porridge, with onions, chestnuts, satsumaimo (Japanese sweet potatoes), kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), and some late-season locally-grown green beans, cannot fairly deny the beginning of the fall produce cycle. The chestnuts are apparently not local, and the squash isn’t quite at its prime, but the fact that I even considered making such a belly-warming dish indicates a clear change in the weather.
The rice was cooked with onions, ginger and some chopped Thai chillies, seasoned with salt, and simmered most of the time with the starchy vegetables, and only for a few minutes with the green beans. I also added a bit of coconut milk, which contributed a creamy texture and an indulgent richness. Upon serving, I place a few leaves of Thai basil in the bowl.
The idea for this dish I have borrowed in large part from a French cuisine-influenced Vietnamese chef, who runs a casual fusion-y place called Andre’s Eurasian Bistro I occasionally patronized when I worked for Microsoft. I liked that place, but had mixed experiences, as sometimes one dish would be fantastic on one visit and barely memorable on another; some dishes were clever ideas and some were not so much. It’s a tough place to have such a long, varied menu; their traffic was never quite predictable as they would sometimes be insanely busy on a weeknight and dead on a weekend, or vice versa. I did appreciate the kind of neighborhood aesthetic there, in otherwise bland strip mall surroundings.
I am not sure the chef would recognize the dish except for the commonality of rice, squash and sweet potatoes, but both versions are wonderfully comforting. No sugar was used, but the vegetables and the coconut milk contributed a kind of natural sweetness, and the Thai basil was a nice accent.
I entertained the idea of making this a simple one-pot meal, and adding some good fried tofu from Thanh Son directly to the porridge, but I decided it would work better in a dish of greens.
This is gai lan, also known as “Chinese Broccoli.” I usually don’t do much to this other than sautee it with garlic and maybe some fermented black beans, but in this case I used some onions, and a vegetarian version of oyster sauce, which is apparently made from fermented mushrooms rather than oysters. This was a simple dish, with a hint of sweetness and saltiness from the oyster sauce.
This weekend coincides with the the monthly “Is my blog burning” event, whose theme is in fact I Can't Believe I Ate Vegan. I’ve been hosting vegetarian (though not strictly vegan) dinner parties for years, and it never fails that a guest who doesn’t know me particularly well gets through the entire meal without realizing that they’ve been eating vegetarian food all night.
I’m not at all an ascetic vegetarian; I don’t really do much in the way of scary 1970s meat analogs, and I have a fairly well-traveled palate which isn’t very patient with mediocrity.
I use tofu, but I’m extremely particular about using extremely fresh tofu, and some people have never tasted anything better than the slightly soured stuff that pervades grocery stores, so they often assumed you were supposed to cover up the taste of tofu to make it palatable. In my opinion, simply prepared tofu that highlights the soy flavor itself is beautiful. Except for people who simply have mental opposition to tofu, most people respond quite positively to my tofu dishes.
Good food, whether vegetarian or not, encourages people to appreciate what they are eating, not wonder about what might be missing. When vegetarian food is prepared well, people aren’t really conscious that it’s vegetarian. My roommate wasn’t particularly aware that no animal products entered the equation for this meal, and I doubt most anyone else would have given it much thought.
My ideal cuisine emphasizes “sappari” flavors, or simple, clean, refreshing tastes. But tonight I was in the mood for a bit more aggressive seasoning, so I used chillies and a heavy hand with the aromatics.
I found my business email account is now averaging one spam message per day advertising some sort of questionable Japanese matchmaking service, and about one or two messages per week in Hebrew. Every once in a while I get spam in Chinese or Korean, though that’s far less common.
My domain name has a Japanese word in it, so maybe that would explain why I’m targeted for Japanese spam, but it’s not much of an explanation for the stuff in Hebrew. I haven’t ever registered for any Japanese site with my business email account except FoodEx or Hoteres trade shows.
Except for the fact that MSN somehow redirects a defunct Israeli florist site to my YuzuMura domain, I can’t figure out why I get spam in Hebrew. I tried to get someone in MSN that I used to work with to investigate that particular problem, though nobody has ever gotten back to me.
I’m not literate in Hebrew and I don’t understand enough Korean to recognize what the Korean spam is about. I understand the gist of the Japanese spam but even on the extremely remote chance I were the type inclined to respond to such offers, I don’t see what value sending it out of the country would be. The Hebrew spam seems to be Israel-based companies promoting vending machines or vacation packages or something similarly useless since I’m nowhere near Israel. They are particularly abusive because they tend to include large image files.
Sometimes I wish email weren’t so close to free. One of my email accounts became almost completely useless after 6 years of use.
I had about 5 hours of sleep Tuesday night, and got myself out of my hotel just a bit before 7 am. I tried to grab something at the Corner Bakery location near my hotel in Chicago, and somehow I managed to get myself turned around and heading away from the El station. When I realized my mistake, it started raining heavily, and I noticed there was no utensil to spread the cream cheese that was included in a small tub with the bagel. It was probably the worst bagel imaginable, short of something sold in the grocery store freezer section.. it was a poppy seed bagel, but somehow mysteriously loaded with sugar.
Yes, I did make my airplane. It was boarding by the time I checked in at the airport. I managed to sleep through more than half of the flight, even sandwiched as I was between an oversized guy on my left and a fidgety 17 year old girl on my right.
I took Metro from Seatac airport to the International District in Seattle and met with my friend Amelia, a German-English translator who has been out of the country for four or five months. We ate at Salumi. Mario Batali's father's place at the edge of Pioneer Square, and got all the specials for the day... an asparagus dish, a polenta dish, and some chickpea soup which had bits of ham in it that I ate around. Actually, it's mostly famous for the cured meats, but there were plenty of nice things for me to eat there also.
Afterward we drank some tea and quatsched for a while at the Panama Hotel Cafe at 6th an Main. This was also where I headed in the evening when I met with Eugene Levy, a green tea importer I knew from the FoodEx trade show. We talked business for two or three hours and I gave him a sample of the Hong Kong sweet I'm working on. (I also gave a piece to a staff member who was working the counter when we were there, who suggested I come in and meet the owner later). Sometime after I return next week, Eugene will help me by introducing me to some people that may be good contacts for me.
Today I made some calls to little papers to talk about ad rates and publicity and related stuff so that I can write up a coherent budget for my first project. One of them is interested in letting me write some articles in addition to getting a nice little interview type thing, if I place an ad. I love how blurry the distinction is between advertising and editorial departments in small media... it reminds me of my old days as an assistant editor at a similar paper, doing proofreading, layout, advertising design, and production work all in the same week.
I jogged around Greenlake once around lunchtime and walked one lap... this is routine, but it was somewhat urgent since I've been stuffing myself in Chicago. I'd like not to expand.
I had my last Korean class of the quarter, which for a subset of us has usually been cause for a potluck during previous quarters. This was no exception... I hurriedly made some kimchi dubu mandu before class after stopping at Thanh Son Tofu for some extremely fresh, hot out of the machine tofu, and at a Korean market for some kimchi and bean sprouts. I actually wanted to use my own homemade mandu pi (dumpling skins) but it was a little hot in here today so even with a liberal application of flour my skins stuck together too much; I ended up using manufactured ones. Next time I make them from scratch I'll roll out only a few at a time or use some cornstarch.
Today, beyond eating too much in Korean class, we were learning how to use verb forms to express "can/cannot" and "want" and so on. I need to start practicing Korean without the benefit of classes or I'll lose everything... there aren't any classes beyond the level I've taken for the forseeable future, and I don't want my modest effort to be wasted.
I watched Goodbye, Lenin tonight, which is a clever German movie that creates a virtuous Rip van Winkle and uses the fall of the Berlin Wall as the revolution the heroine, Katrin Saß, sleeps through. Of course, the twist is that she falls into a coma after a heart attack and the doctor doesn't want to risk shocking her with the news; it could be a sitcom plot if it was written for a laugh track. Unlike the Rip van Winkle story, it's no parable about drinking too much... It is a German movie.
I really haven't gone out to the cinema to see many movies in the last six months or so, so this was a pleasant diversion. My memories of East German architecture circa 1992 and 1994 all came back to me. I thought it was a clever idea, and it was pleasant to see a "lost time" plot this advanced that didn't have to resort to gimmicks like time machines or cryogenics. OK, I guess a coma is a bit of a gimmick, too.
Another thing I haven't done anytime recently is visit the Seven Gables cinema in the University District. It's a pleasantly old-school cinema with interior details you just don't find in corporate megaplexes. I feel rewarded... This place has been so close to closing permanently several times over the last few years or so, but it really deserves an audience.
Since March last year, I've been taking Korean classes. I started taking pottery class as work got more frustrating, and then I remembered an ambition I once had in college of being capable of communicating in a certain number of languages by the time I am 35 or so. So far, I speak English reasonably well for someone who spent seven years at a software company, my German is still passable, and my Japanese only embarrasses me every other time I speak it. I've forgotten most of the little bit of French I've taken and I never really succeeded at learning Hungarian, though I did briefly attend a Hungarian class when I was a student in Germany.
Oh, yes, Korean. I remembered the time that I went to Korea on a business trip and how much I enjoyed being there, but how helpless (or hapless?) I was wandering on my own even in Seoul. So I finally decided that I could get more out of future travel to Korea if I was at least able to ask for things.
I had a little bit of a break from January to March, because no fourth-quarter Korean class was offered in Bellevue Community College's continuing education program. So at that time, I took a beginning Chinese course (Mandarin) so that I had something to occupy my mind outside of the office. But fortunately, the fourth quarter class was offered starting in April.
I attended last week and realized how much I've forgotten. This week was a little bit harder. I hope I can finally catch up and remember all of the things which I have neglected to spend much time studying over the last few months... I need to work harder.